Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The Vinland Map: How a Mysterious Forgery Fooled Experts for Decades


The Vinland Map courted controversy from the moment its discovery was announced. / Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University // Public Domain (map); wilatlak villette/Moment/Getty Images (background)

In 1965, Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice Michael A. Musmanno traveled to Yale University to look at a map that, until recently, had been kept a closely guarded secret.

The document, dubbed the Vinland Map, was said to date back to 1440. It was inscribed with a phrase alternately deciphered as Vinlanda Insula, Vimlanda Insula, or Vinilanda Insula, and depicted a version of North America that included Greenland as an island as well as part of what appears to be the North American coast. When translated, text on the map seemed to corroborate the events of what are known as the Vinland Sagas, two 13th-century Icelandic texts that speak of legendary explorer Leif Erikson arriving in North America—likely present-day Newfoundland, Canada—by way of Greenland around 1000. If legit, as the university claimed it was, the map was the earliest representation of North America and provided more evidence that Vikings had made it to the continent nearly 500 years ahead of Christopher Columbus—who, although he sailed for Spain, was Genoese by birth and was later embraced by Italian Americans as a hero.

In a blow to their pride, the map’s existence was announced in a splashy press conference just before the holiday honoring the explorer. With it came a book written by scholars who had worked in secret for seven years to verify the map’s authenticity. “Cartographic Scholarship Turns Over New Leif,” the Los Angeles Times punned.

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Bones Reveal Bog Man's Secret Life Before His Violent End in a Foreign Land

Vittrup man's teeth reveal his maritime origins.
Arnold Mikkelsen/Fischer et al., PLOS One, 2024)

Violently bludgeoned to death and left in a Danish bog, the Stone Age individual known as 'Vittrup man' was discovered in 1915 by peat cutters in the midst of harvest.

His murder – thought to have been part of a ritualized sacrifice – occurred sometime between 3300 and 3100 BCE, during the height of the local Funnelbeaker culture.

Archeologists now have the strongest evidence yet that this is not where his life began.

The first hint that Vittrup man was a foreigner in Denmark came from a study investigating Mesolithic and Neolithic gene pools of Eurasia.

This revealed that Vittrup man's DNA was distinct from the other skeletons from this time found in the area, which prompted archeologist Anders Fischer from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and his colleagues to investigate further.

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11,000-year-old Stone Age structure discovered underwater


Researchers have found a prehistoric man-made stone wall that could be dating back some 11,000 years just off the coast of modern-day Germany. Jacob Geersen, a marine geologist now at the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research, found the wall during a night lecture with his students who were mapping with echosounders a swath of seafloor off the coast of Germany. “The idea would be to create an artificial bottleneck with a second wall or with the lake shore,” Geersen told the Guardian. According to experts, the stone wall is more than half a mile long and dates back to the Stone Age.

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4,000-year-old copper dagger found in Poland


A rare copper dagger dating back more than 4,000 years has been discovered in a forest near Jarosław, southeastern Poland. Shaped like a flint dagger from the period, it is just over four inches long, but that is actually a large dagger compared to similar such finds because the metal was hard to come by and very valuable. This is the oldest dagger ever discovered in the Subcarpathian Voivodeship (province).

The blade was discovered last November by metal detectorist Piotr Gorlach from the Historical and Exploration Association Grupa Jarosław, an organization of local history enthusiasts who search for archaeological materials with the permission of government heritage officials. Gorlach was looking for military objects from the World Wars that day without success. He had given up and was heading towards his car when his detector signaled the presence of metal under the forest floor. He saw the metal piece aged with a green patina and quickly realized it was much older than shrapnel from World War I. He alerted the voivodeship’s conservator of monuments and archaeologists from the Orsetti House Museum in Jarosław were deployed to examine the find.

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A 2,000-Year-Old Rune-Inscribed Knife Sheds Light on Denmark’s Past

The knife engraved with runes believed to be Denmark's oldest.
Photo: Rógvi N. Johansen, Museum Odense.

Archaeologists from the Museum Odense in Denmark recently unearthed a significant historical artifact: a small, 2,000-year-old knife bearing an exceptionally rare runic inscription.

The text, composed of five runes concluding with three depressions engraved into the knife, uses the oldest known runic alphabet. The runes represent the word “hirila,” interpreted to mean “Little Sword” in Old Norse. While it remains uncertain whether “hirila” refers to the knife itself or its owner, archaeologists affirm its status as a cherished possession interred in a grave almost two millennia ago. The relic was found under the remnants of an urn in a small burial ground east of Odense.

Speaking on the national significance of the discovery, museum inspector and archaeologist Jakob Bonde was thrilled. “It is a unique experience to stand with such an old and finished written language,” he said. “A runic inscription is like finding a message from ancient people.”

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Danish Unknown Royal Family Discovered Thanks to Ring

Courtesy National Museum of Denmark.
 

The Merovingian line ruled the Franks from the middle of the fifth century until 751. The Merovingians play a prominent role in French historiography and national identity. When it comes to the ring, 39-year-old Lars Nielsen extracted it from the earth. After that, he gave it to the Museum Sønderjylland, in Haderslev. Afterwards, the institution gave the ring to Copenhagen’s National Museum of Denmark.

Kirstine Pommergaard of the National Museum examined the ring and found that its design is similar to those of rings worn by influential Merovingians. She goes on to say that the ring not only announces the arrival of a new family. Additionally, it links Emmerlev to one of the biggest European power centres throughout the Iron Age. The ring possibly belonged to a princess who wed a different prince in the area.

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Gold Ring Possibly Linked to Royal Family Discovered by Metal Detectorist


Lars Nielsen was casually using his metal detector while exploring the Emmerlev area in Denmark when he made quite the surprising discovery: a large and luxurious-looking gold ring set with a red semiprecious stone. It turns out it's much more than just a nice piece of jewelry that someone might have left behind. 

Researchers have been looking into the ring's origins and believe that it dates back to the 5th or 6th century. According to the Danish news site Via Ritzau, the discovery seemingly points to the long-ago presence of an unknown royal family in the area with close ties to the Merovingians, a royal family that once ruled the Kingdom of France. 

Kirstine Pommergaard, a curator and archaeologist at the National Museum of Denmark, explained what she found and how the ring's unique build connects it to the Merovingian elite. 

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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Rare Merovingian gold ring found in Jutland


A metal detectorist has discovered a rare Merovingian gold ring dating to 500-600 A.D. in Emmerlev, Southwest Jutland, Denmark. The ring is made of 22-carat gold and is set with an oval cabochon almandine garnet, a red semi-precious stone prized among Germanic peoples as a symbol of power. The mount has four spirals on the underside and trefoil knobs where the band meets the bezel. The spirals and knobs are characteristic of the highest quality of Frankish manufacture, and rings of this type were worn by the elite of the Merovingian dynasty.

National Museum of Denmark curator Kirstine Pommergaard believes the quality and construction of the ring suggests there may have been an unknown noble family in the Emmerlev area with close connections to Merovingian royalty.

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Monday, February 19, 2024

Possible Viking-Age Marketplace Found in Norway


STAVANGER, NORWAY—According to a statement released by the University of Stavanger, a ground-penetrating radar survey conducted on Klosterøy, an island off Norway’s southwestern coast, has detected traces of possible pit houses, cooking pits, and pier or boathouse foundations that may have been part of a Viking Age marketplace. Investigation of this area of private farmland around the medieval Utstein Monastery over the years with metal detectors has also revealed coins and weights usually associated with trade, explained archaeologist Håkon Reiersen of the University of Stavanger Museum of Archaeology. “While many indicators suggest that this may be a marketplace, we cannot be 100 percent certain until further investigations are conducted in the area to verify the findings,” added archaeologist Grethe Moéll Pedersen of the Museum of Archaeology. To read about possible evidence for the Vikings' long-distance trading activity, go to "Viking Trading or Raiding?"

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These Ancient Remains and Relics Reveal Poland’s Bronze Age Rituals

Though the lake near Papowo Biskupie is now drained and dry, nearby lakes (including Lake Starogrodzkie in Poland’s Chełmno County) provide a picture of what the ancient waters could’ve looked like when bodies and bronze treasures were deposited beneath the surface.
(Credit: Mrugas PHOTOgraphy/Shutterstock)

There’s no better place to put bodies and bronze treasures than in the bed of a small, shallow lake. At least, that’s what the Bronze Age people of Poland believed, according to a new article in Antiquity.

Published in the journal in January, the article reports that researchers recently found a stash of Bronze Age remains and relics that trace as far back as 1000 B.C.E. Recovered from an ancient, long-lost lake in an archaeological area near Papowo Biskupie in Poland, the stash challenges common conceptions about Poland’s past and suggests that the site possessed some sort of ancient, sacrificial significance.

Stone Age 'megastructure' under Baltic Sea sheds light on strategy used by Paleolithic hunters over 10,000 years ago


Northern and Central Europe in the Late Upper Palaeolithic (white areas = ice-co

Archaeologists have identified what may be Europe's oldest human-made megastructure, submerged 21 meters below the Baltic Sea in the Bay of Mecklenburg, Germany. This structure—which has been named the Blinkerwall—is a continuous low wall made from over 1,500 granite stones that runs for almost a kilometer. The evidence suggests it was constructed by Paleolithic people between 11,700 and 9,900 years ago, probably as an aid for hunting reindeer.

The archaeologists investigating the Bay of Mecklenburg used a range of submarine equipment, sampling methods and modeling techniques to reconstruct the ancient lake bed and its surrounding landscape. This revealed that the Blinkerwall stands on a ridge running east to west, with a 5km-wide lake basin a few meters below the ridge to the south.

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New Medieval Books: Beowulf and the North Before the Vikings


Beowulf and the North Before the Vikings

By Tom Shippey

Arc Humanities Press
ISBN: 9781802700138

How much history is there in the story of Beowulf? The author argues that we can learn more about the people and places mentioned in the poem than has been commonly accepted, and it also sheds light on the Viking raids that began at the end of the eighth century.
Excerpt:

Beowulf’s anti-historical critics do of course have a point. If you believe that history cannot be written without dates and documents, then Beowulf offers neither. On the other hand, students of prehistory are accustomed to making what they can of other kinds of evidence, like legends and late traditions. And there is in addition the solid and ever-increasing evidence of archaeology, the “open frontier” of Beowulf-studies and of early history. As Ulf Näsman, Professor of Archaeology at Linnaeus University in Sweden, puts it: “archaeologists can write history.” Moreover, and as it happens, even for Beowulf we do have some surprising documentary evidence, which also gives us a date.

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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Vikings and their impact in Britain examined in new set of stamps issued by Royal Mail


The impact the Vikings had on Britain is being examined in a new set of stamps issued by Royal Mail. 

The eight stamps feature Viking artefacts and locations of significance from around the UK.

These include an iron, silver and copper sword, a silver penny minted in York, silver and bronze brooches, an antler comb and case from Coppergate, York, and a Hogback gravestone from Govan Old, Glasgow.

The release of the collection also marks 40 years since the Jorvik Viking Centre opened in York.

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Thursday, February 08, 2024

Traces of Saxon town found beneath London’s National Gallery


 Archaeologists from Archaeology South-East have uncovered traces of the Saxon town of Lundenwic beneath the National Gallery in London.
Following the collapse of Roman Britain, Londoninium (London) fell to ruin and was abandoned during the 5th century AD.

Anglo-Saxons settled 1.6 km’s to the west of the former Roman capital, establishing a small town known as Lundenwic in the area of present-day Covent Garden.

During the 6th century AD, England was split into multiple Anglo-Saxon kingdoms termed the Heptarchy. As borders changed through conquest and marriage, the town of Lundenwic found itself first within the domain of Essex, then Mercia, and subsequently Wessex.

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Monday, February 05, 2024

Ship burial discovered in Norway predates Viking Age


A burial mound explored last June in Norway holds the remains of a ship that predates the Viking age. Archaeologists believe this is Scandinavia’s oldest known ship burial.

Archaeologists and a metal detectorist conducted the survey at Herlaugshagen at Leka, which is located in Trøndelag County in central Norway. Carried out by NTNU Science Museum and Trøndelag County Municipality, it was funded by a grant of NOK 100,000 from Norway’s National Antiquities Agency. The purpose was to be able to date the burial mound more closely, and possibly confirm whether the burial mound may have contained a ship. The archaeologists found iron rivets, a horse’s tooth, preserved remains of wood and charcoal.

The rivets allowed the researchers to date the site. “The mound was constructed in approximately 700 CE,” said Geir Grønnesby, an archaeologist at the NTNU University Museum. “This is called the Merovingian period and precedes the Viking Age. This dating is really exciting because it pushes the whole tradition of ship burials quite far back in time.”

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Saturday, February 03, 2024

10 Facts About L’Anse aux Meadows, North America’s Only Viking Ruins

Recreated Viking sod houses behind a wooden fence at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada. / Dylan Kereluk, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

L’Anse aux Meadows, an archaeological site in Newfoundland, Canada, represents the first and only confirmed Viking presence in North America—proving beyond doubt that Vikings reached the Americas some 400 years before Christopher Columbus. Here are 10 facts about L’Anse Aux Meadows and some of its mysteries that are yet to be solved.

1. Vikings were not the first people to live at L’Anse aux Meadows.
Archaeological evidence of fireplaces, tent rings, and other artifacts suggest that several Indigenous groups lived at L’Anse aux Meadows before and after the Vikings occupied the site. They include peoples of the Maritime Archaic tradition from roughly 4000 to 1000 BCE, the Groswater tradition from 1000 BCE to 500 CE, and the Middle Dorset Culture from 400 to 750 CE. Historians believe there were no people present at the time of the Norse arrival, though.

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